Skakel was on suicide watch
By James O'Keefe - Stamford Advocate

Convicted killer Michael Skakel was placed on a round-the-clock suicide watch after he was hauled off to prison in handcuffs last week, sources said yesterday.

Skakel, 41, is being held without bail at the Garner Correctional Institution in Newtown while awaiting sentencing for murder in the 1975 slaying of Greenwich neighbor Martha Moxley.

He was convicted June 7 of bludgeoning Moxley to death with a golf club outside her Belle Haven home and immediately taken to the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Center in Suffield in northern Connecticut. All new inmates are routinely assessed for substance abuse and mental health issues, prison officials said.

Skakel was transferred that same day to Garner -- a slightly lower security facility equipped with a psychiatric facility. He was immediately placed under a 24-hour suicide watch, which was lifted Wednesday, a source said.

Sources said Skakel was extremely distraught when he arrived at prison and was observed crying in his cell.

State Department of Correction spokeswoman Karen Oien would not comment on the reputed suicide watch. She said the department is barred from disclosing any information regarding an inmate's health or mental health.

"Inmate transfers within our agency are routine and are done for a variety of reasons," Oien said of Skakel's move to Garner.

Skakel is housed in a single cell at Garner -- a prison with a population of 712 prisoners. Garner is a high-security prison but is slightly less restrictive then the maximum security MacDougall -- a facility where high-profile inmates often are housed.

Garner inmates are generally allowed two hours of recreation and two 15-minute collect phone calls per day, Oien said. They also can have two hourlong visits a week and one visit on alternating weekends, she said. Inmates are allowed more liberal visits with their attorneys, she said.

Skakel's defense lawyer, Michael Sherman of Stamford, has visited Skakel at Garner. He said Skakel was not under a suicide watch as far as he knew.

"He's fine. . . . He is making the best out of a difficult situation," Sherman said yesterday. The prison staff "is being very nice to him."

On the day Skakel was convicted, his defense attorney and family maintained his innocence.

"This is certainly the most upsetting verdict I've ever had, or will ever have, in my life," Sherman said June 7. "But I will tell you, as long as there's a breath in my body, this case is not over."

When asked why he thought his brother was innocent, Steven Skakel said, "Because I know Michael and I know there is no way on Earth he could have done this."

Skakel is hopeful his conviction will be overturned, his attorney said. On Wednesday, Sherman filed a motion for a new trial, a motion to set aside the verdict and a motion for judgment of acquittal on Skakel's behalf. Sherman said charged 18 counts of errors by the court and said the jury was influenced unfairly by gruesome photos of Moxley shown on a screen during a playback of Skakel's taped voice during the prosecution's closing arguments.

"He's optimistic about the appeal. He is upbeat and is not giving up," Sherman said.

After the sentencing, Sherman is expected to appeal the transfer of the case from juvenile court to adult court and also may challenge the court's decision to try Skakel despite a five-year statute of limitations for murder in effect in 1975.

Although Sherman is listed as the emergency contact on Skakel's prison records, the attorney said members of Skakel's family also have visited him in prison.

Sherman wouldn't say whether Skakel has been able to have contact with his young son, George, since his incarceration. Friends have said Skakel is devoted to the boy and carried a picture of him during the trial.

Skakel is scheduled to be sentenced July 19 in state Superior Court in Norwalk. He faces 10 years to life in prison.

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